'The music came across the airwaves and suddenly it felt as if the world was actually changing,' Keith Richards said in 2003. 'Things went from black and white or grey to full Technicolor: no army, there's rock'n'roll music and as long as you've got a bit of bread you can buy anything, you don't need to queue. All of these things combined created a very strong thing in England for our generation. It was a breath of fresh air and a promise of real possibilities, instead of the prospect of simply following in our fathers' footsteps, which was pretty gloomy.'
If you lived through the 1960s and 1970s, and are a woman, it's really hard to be shocked or surprised by the tolerated sexism back then that's currently crawling out of the woodwork. It wasn't in the woodwork at the time. It was just there, in the air you breathed, in the world you walked about in. It wasn't just DJs and comedians. It wasn't even only the touching up, the comments, the boss who called you in to deal with a pile of filing that needed putting away in the bottom drawer of the cabinet right opposite his desk (think 1960s miniskirts). The men who felt you up on the Tube at least knew they were doing something wrong, even though they didn't think it was very wrong, or only wrong because it was in public. You could say, in a loud voice, 'Take your hand off my body,' and they would look ashamed. You could strategise to avoid those you knew were trouble, you grew a tough skin walking about the street being shouted at, having your body commented on, being sneered at when you didn't respond. Learning to deal with loathesome men in public and at work was part of being a young woman. But it was more pervasive than that.
In 1968 and thereabouts, when I wanted drugs, a coffee, sexual or intellectual companionship, to see an exhibition or a play, or to watch a movie on the mattress-covered floor (often of people sleeping or the Empire State Building standing stately), I'd pop down the road from where I lived in Long Acre to the Arts Lab in Drury Lane. It was open day and night, a great facility for wild young people feeling clubbable. It was started and run by Jim Haynes, an American entrepreneur of the world of Happenings. He hung around the place, a little older than many of us. Long-hair, beard, droopy moustache. Much like everyone else, but with an avuncular proprietorial air. He was hosting the day-and-night party-and-recovery site that was the Arts Lab.
An email from a researcher doing a documentary for BBC3 on the history of teenagers arrives. That’ll be short, I think. She wants to talk to me about ways of presenting the Sixties to today’s teenagers, who she has discovered know nothing about the period. BBC3, with a viewer age range of 16 to 24, doesn’t do history documentaries as a rule, so it’s a bit of an experiment. She phones. ‘We’ve got a bit of development money for the project and I saw you had a book out about the Sixties. The reviews said you were involved with young people, and I was wondering if you had any ideas for grabbing the attention of modern teenagers about what teenagers were like in the Sixties.’ A researcher. She had (mis)read a review or two of a book she hadn’t even looked at. Might be worth a phone call.